Remembering Yury

by Frederic Friedel
7/5/2021 – It was a great shock to wake up and learn that Yury Dokhoian had died, at the age of just 56, struck down by the accursed virus that has immobilized the world. Yet another reminder that we are not over it, yet. It is still going to take friends and loved ones. Frederic Friedel shares some memories of his friend Yury, with whom he spent a great deal of time. | Photo: Wiki, Porto Carras, 2011

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I met Yury in the early days of my association with Garry Kasparov. He was his most trusted second and present at over twenty events I attended. He was quiet and unassuming, very easy to get on with. Sometimes I was with him (and Garry) for a week or more, and it was always in great friendship and affection. I am deeply saddened by his passing, and want to share a few stories – a few of many – to tell you what it was like being around Yury.

During the Super GM tournament in Las Palmas in 1997 Garry was playing, assisted by Yury. In round four he had a very nice attacking game against the world’s number two, Vishy Anand. I was following the moves in the press room, together with some of the grandmasters present there. After 19 moves we saw the following position:

Kasparov,Garry (2785) - Anand,Viswanathan (2735) [B92]
Las Palmas (4), 12.12.1996
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Be2 e5 7.Nb3 Be7 8.0-0 0-0 9.Kh1 b5 10.a4 Bb7 11.Nd5 bxa4 12.Rxa4 Bc6 13.Ra3 Nxe4 14.Na5 Nf6 15.Nxc6 Nxc6 16.Bc4 Nd4 17.Rh3 g6 18.Qd2 Nf5 19.Nxf6+ Bxf6

At this point Kasparov went into a deep think. Jan Timman started to speculate whether White couldn’t play the very forceful 20.g4. Yury said: “That’s exactly what he’s looking at!” Yury understood Kasparov’s thinking better than anyone else in the world.

Yury Dokhoian checking the 20.g4 line with Fritz in real time during the game, Kasparov and
Anand analyse after six hours of play [video grabs from the CBM 56 multimedia report].

Meanwhile Garry had played 20.Bd5. The game lasted six hours, Anand defended very tenaciously, and at around 10 p.m., much to the disappointment of Kasparov, a draw was agreed.

When he left the stage Garry came into the press room, spotted me and walked straight over. “I couldn’t win it, could I, Fred?” he asked, with a troubled look on his face. It was a bit shocking: the world champion and best player of all times consulting a chess amateur. He walks into a room-full of grandmasters and asks a rank amateur for an evaluation of the game he has just spent six hours on!

Naturally Garry wasn’t asking me, he was asking Fritz. He knew I would have been following the game with the computer. “Yes, you had a win, Garry. With 20.g4!” My answer vexed him deeply. “But I saw that! It didn’t work. How does it work? Show me.” I could not dictate all the lines, but then thankfully Yury walked over.

Kasparov and Anand listened in horror while Yury dictated the critical lines. All of this was captured on video and published in ChessBase Magazine 56 (Feb 1997).

I want to tell you (and think back) about the three weeks Yury and I spent together in the New York Plaza hotel, in 1997, supporting Garry in his second match against Deep Blue. We had breakfast, lunch and dinner together, almost every day. Yury would spend the whole day, preparing for the upcoming games with Garry. Occasionally he would come to my room to confer. Main subject: how to keep Garry calm and relaxed. Especially in view of growing suspicion that there may be some form of illegal human intervention in the computer’s games.

The second game was particularly traumatic, when Deep Blue adopted a very human positional strategy and won the game. Late that night I was informed by the ChessBase team that Kasparov had missed a drawing chance after move 45. Yury came into my room and we looked at the perpetual check the people in Hamburg had found.

Early next morning the question was: who should tell Garry. Yury said it had to be him, and he told his charge about the draw during a walk on the streets of Manhattan. Garry froze, and people walking behind him almost ran into him. It was all such a shock.

One more little story, one that I fondly remember from New York? IBM threw a big dinner for Garry’s team and themselves. Some guests were invited, and one of them was Anjelina Belakovskaia, the US women’s champion, whom at the time I interviewed for ChessBase Magazine.

While fetching salad from the menu bar Anjelina, who had been seated next to Yury, asked me: “who is that man sitting next to me?” – “That's Garry’s cook”, I replied. She went back to the table and the two were in happy conversation, when suddenly she shook her fist at me (I was seated at the other end of the table).

After dinner Yury came over to me and said: “You have to do that kind of thing, Frederic?” And confessed he had enjoyed Anjelina’s confusion and bewilderment.

Incidentally, Anjelina, who is now a Senior Lecturer at Thunderbird School of Global Management, Arizona State University, wrote me:

“I am truly sorry to hear about Yury’s death. It is unfair when people who should still have plenty of life ahead of them pass away. And yet, it is also so important to recognize that Yury had a very successful life and enjoyed being a chess professional — player and coach — doing what he loved and bringing positive influence to so many chess players! Yury’s passing is very sad news, but writing about his life and impact will help those who knew him recall their experiences and remember Yury in gratitude.”

Sentiments I can only echo.

All of the above is meant to give you an impression of what it was like to be around this man. I am still in shock at losing a friend so suddenly, so early in his life. Rest in peace, Yury. You led a rich and useful life!


Editor-in-Chief emeritus of the ChessBase News page. Studied Philosophy and Linguistics at the University of Hamburg and Oxford, graduating with a thesis on speech act theory and moral language. He started a university career but switched to science journalism, producing documentaries for German TV. In 1986 he co-founded ChessBase.


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